Just under a week ago, I wrote about Building an archive of my Twitter Activity because I was concerned about the viability and longetivity of Twitter following it's acquisition by Elon Musk.
I wasn't particularly upbeat about the damage that Musk was about to do with his Blue-tick-for-$8 scheme:
The subsequent six days though, have shown that I wasn't nearly pessimistic enough.
I don't normally post running commentary on topics such as this, but the impacts of mismanagement happening on this scale, and so publicly, are really quite hard to ignore.
My previous post contains some examples of advertiser disquiet, including an advertiser replying to Elon to ask how they could trust his promises of content moderation when he'd just laid off the vast majority of that team.
Elon, Great chat yesterday, As you heard overwhelmingly from senior advertisers on the call, the issue concerning us all is content moderation and its impact on BRAND SAFETY/SUITABILITY. You say you’re committed to moderation, but you just laid off 75% of the moderation team!
Advertisers are not being manipulated by activist groups, they are being compelled by established principles around the types of companies they can do business with. These principles include an assessment of the platforms commitment to brand safety and suitability.
That includes the trustworthiness of the leadership team and the behavior of the CEO.
You claimed yesterday that you are deeply committed to Content Moderation, yet today you’ve eliminated the vast majority of people who did that work for Twitter.
How do we reconcile these?
It really shouldn't be a surprise that brands do not want their names and logos associated with problematic content, but it really does seem that Musk hasn't fully appreciated this (and potentially, still doesn't - reports from a call with advertisers on Wednesday were that he only wanted to talk about product, and not content concerns).
Following the launch of the new "verified" ticks, the Internet proceeded to deliver a practical lesson in exactly what it might be that advertisers were concerned about
To further compound the issue, Twitter's algorithms started pushing some of these fakes to users under a variety of topics
Nintendo, of course, are famously litigious, sending out threats and take-down notices for anything that they feel might be even slightly adjacent to their IP. Even fan made games are not safe.
So, it's fairly easy to imagine the view they might be taking on a "verification" system which allows Twitter users to masquerade as them.
Impact on Musk's other Companies
In my previous post, I noted that Tesla shareholders were unlikely to be particularly pleased with the fact that Musk had taken workers from Tesla (a publicly traded company) and used them to help him get up and running at Twitter (a privately held company), with no real benefit to Tesla.
At the time, Tesla's share price had already reduced amid shareholder concern about Musk's Twitter acquisition (and whether he might now be more focused on that than driving growth at Tesla).
However, if they were unhappy at that, they're very like apoplectic at Musk's hubris around monetisation and verification allowing this to happen:
It's a tasteless joke, but it's also exactly the type of content that companies and advertisers were saying that they do not want to be associated with.
Although he describes himself as a moderate, Musk is most often associated with right-wing politics as many of his views are compatible with the libertarian mindset. Historically, he's certainly been known to make some questionable claims and comments, down to calling a hero 'pedo guy' for criticising his ill-thought-out plan for rescuing trapped kids.
Politicians on the US right, then, might have taken some comfort in Musk's acquisition of Twitter: he might not quite be one of their own, but his statement that he would not filter/censor any legal speech was very likely very welcome.
This week though, it seems quite likely that more than a few of them are aware of at least a little discomfort
Cruz was not the only political figure to be affected
(For those who don't get the joke - that's the Transgender flag)
Desantis hasn't had a great week either, as well as getting a kicking from Trump there was this
Despite the delayed launch of Twitter Blue "verification", there was even still some overlap with the US election, with an account claiming to be Kari Lake (the Republican candidate for Arizona's governor) appearing to concede to her opponent (counts are still ongoing at the time of the tweet)
The thing about all of these, is just how very predictable it was that they (or things like them) would happen.
Users on the right of the political spectrum often complained that Twitter was left-aligned. If we take those claims as factual (because those users at least believe it to be), then it stands to reason that a substantial proportion of the userbase would also be left-wing. If you give that userbase the ability to masquerade as other people, then of course they're going to come for right-wing politicans.
Significant Shareholder Impact
So far, the examples have arguably been fairly limited in their impact: those affected might not like what was tweeted, but is there any real harm?
You may or may not have heard of the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly.
Earlier this week, an account pretending to be them tweeted the following
This initally led to the company tweeting an apology
However, investors were unnerved, and Eli Lilly's share price took a significant hit
As a result of that one prank, $15 billion was wiped off the value of a Eli Lilly (impacting all of their shareholders - individuals and pension funds alike). At time of writing, although it's recovered a little, the price is still down significantly.
Although they are likely the most severe, Eli Lilly was not the only company to see spoof tweets followed by a drop in share price
The tweets which caused these share price hits were only possible because of Musk's lassiez-faire attitude to verification - the new Twitter Blue verification doesn't involve any verification of identity and is little more than a receipt for payment.
This is a fairly significant own goal for Musk.
Arms companies like Lockheed Martin aren't exactly known for being left-wing, so in the political culture war he (and his followers) seem to be fighting, this can only be viewed as being a significant friendly fire incident.
Suspension of Twitter Blue and reintroduction of verification
It's taken less than a week for Twitter Blue signups to be stopped.
Twitter are also introducing a new "Official" badge on the bios of advertisers and other verified accounts
So, it seems that Twitter's new leadership has (at last) recognised some of why verification was a thing to begin with, although
Giving rise to the position that both of the following were true
- An account's bio has sufficient prominence to note that they are an official account
- An account's bio does not have sufficient prominence to note that they are not an official account
Twitter does now add an "Official" badge to certain tweets
Which does rather raise the question of exactly what the point was in changing the meaning of the blue tick.
On the "Hard Fork" Podcast, Twitter employees have revealed that there was no entry for potential abuse in the Twitter Blue Verified design documents: the potential for it hadn't even been considered.
Rule by Dictat
Musk's rule by dictat approach has led to significant confusion. Just above, there's an example of Twitter pulling a u-turn in the space of a day.
The examples, though, only show the external communications and impacts, and Musk has been just as busy internally.
This week, amongst other things, Twitter saw:
- the resignations of its Head of Safety and the interim head of advertising (both of whom had appeared with him on a call on Wednesday to try and calm advertisers)
- the resignations of the Chief Privacy Officer (CPO), Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), leading to concern that Twitter could no longer comply with FTC requirements and might be at risk of billions in FTC Fines (Musk's lawyer has reportedly been telling people "Elon puts rockets into space, he's not afraid of the FTC).
- As the result of the above, Musk's lawyer trying to reassure Twitter employees that they won't go to jail if Twitter violates the FTC decree
- the FTC report that it's tracking Twitter developments "with deep concern"
- Musk warn employees that Bankruptcy isn't out of the question for Twitter
- Musk tell Twitters "remote forever" workforce that they must come into the office for 40 hours a week (otherwise, resignation accepted)
A lawyer representing employees affected by Musk's potentially illegal layoffs has acquired an audio-recording of the company's Thursday all-hands, and believes that the forced removal of remote working options is an attempt to try and reduce headcount without triggering the WARN act.
Update: Not long after this post, there was the unpleasant spectacle of Musk taking to Twitter to mock those he'd just laid off
With Musk's acquisition, Twitter became a private company and it's normally quite difficult to assess the true value of a privately held company.
So, it'd normally be quite difficult to say with much certainty whether Musk's changes have dramatically impacted the value of the company that he purchased (and, realistically, had overpaid for anyway).
However, in order to help raise funding for the acquisition, Musk took out $13 billion in loans from banks such as Morgan Stanley.
Last month, there were reports that the banks felt that, rather than selling the debt onto investors, they were going to need to keep the debts on their books until investor confidence increased.
But, the banks have now reportedly started testing the water, and found some disappointing results, with some funds offering to buy for as little as 60 cents on the dollar (i.e. buying $1000 of debt for just $600), leading to calculations that Musk's
$44 billion purchase is now worth less than
Is Parody Legal on Twitter
This week has beem an absolute shitfest, and I've not even touched yet upon Musk's earlier back and forth over the permissibility of parody accounts.
Within 8 days of tweeting "comedy is now legal on Twitter" he was tweeting that parody accounts will be banned if they don't have "parody" in their bio (before then banning accounts that were clearly labelled as being parody).
One of his lieutenants - David Sacks - defended this by making the claim that this was impersonation and fraud
Of course, the first amendment doesn't apply to private companies like Twitter, being about Government suppression of speech.
Unfortunately, Musk's habit of speaking without thinking, and doing without planning has worked against him again
Mr Sacks himself has also expressed similar views
So it shouldn't be overly surprising that the 1st Amendment is being held up as the yardstick that they're failing against. What should be a suprise, of course, is how uninformed Mr Sacks seems to be about the 1A given his stated reliance on it.
As noted above, rules have since been changed again, and Twitter now requires that the word "Parody" be in the user's name, not just in their bio.
At this point, David Sacks being uninformed isn't overly surprising, except that it keeps taking new forms.
Twitter banned the
@elonjet account for tweeting publicly available data, followed by banning any journalist who had the temerity to report on the banning before Elon sulked out of a Twitter Space shortly before all Spaces went down.
Afterwards, Mr Sacks tweeted in support of it:
The law he's invoking only applies if the author has "intent to place another person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of the other person’s immediate family", which clearly doesn't apply here.
That link, for those curious, is https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PEN§ionNum=653.2.
Twitter users, for their part, soon also added an additional correction to the tweet
Between this and other examples, it's fairly clear that Mr Sacks is something of a misinstalled weather-vane, quite reliably pointing in the wrong direction.
Musk's cack-handedness has led to him facing what can only be described as an outright user rebellion.
This rebellion is compounded by him having ignored warnings about his "verification" scheme, effectively arming the rebels with the sticks that they now beat him with.
In the space of days, Mr Musk has shifted from "comedy is legal on Twitter" to permanently banning comedian's accounts for parody and satire. It seems that Mr Free Speech does draw lines affecting legal speech, particularly if that speech is mocking him.
Twitter's crusade against employee welfare and shareholder confidence seems to continue unabated, with Musk's "verification" scheme having had very real impacts for some third parties, and presumably for Twitter's exposure to liability.
On the subject of liability, it's looking like Twitter may be in very hot water with the FTC - the staff who were required to make certification following Twitter's acquisition have all resigned (presumably through refusal to put their name to a certification). Musk's plan, apparently, is that employee's will self-certify components that they develop, which rather misses the point.
As a result, the security and safety of Twitter as a platform is very much in doubt, and any user who might face real-world safety implications from it's use, should probably stop using the platform immediately.
Twitter's financial viability was already in doubt post-acquisition, as a result of the $1 billion in interest that Musk has made them liable for. The potential for multi-billion FTC fines can only serve to weaken that confidence further, especially when accompanied by claims that Musk "isn't scared of the FTC".
Advertisers reportedly used to provide 90% of Twitter's revenue, however, it's unclear whether many advertisers are going to be willing to continue to use a platform that has allowed them to be so easily, and so harshly parodied. Early advertisers complaints about content moderation have been underscored by the length of time that many of these parodies spent online - oddly enough, slashing content moderation teams does tend to negatively impact response times.
The "draw" of Twitter has always been content generated by others (with Twitter profiting by adding adverts into the feed), with the sources of attraction moving away, it's unclear why users might want to pay a monthly subscription.
As a TL:DR, this really doesn't feel too far off of the mark
Musk's failure to heed warnings and advice has impacted a broad swathe of companies including his own, and some of those parodies are going to be doing the rounds for quite some time
I'm unlikely (I hope) to write in this depth on Twitter again, but those who want to follow along might enjoy Twitter is going great!
Update: just over a year later, Musk is facing (yet) another round of advertisers moving away from Twitter (well, X now). His approach to tempting them back? Telling them to go fuck themselves.